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What is the Difference Between Jam and Jelly?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Jam and jelly are both preserves, but they are very different when it comes to ingredients, recipe, and overall composition. Jams are usually made with whole fruits or sometimes vegetables that are boiled in sugar until they form a thick, spreadable gel. Chunks of the original produce are usually visible and tend to make the end result somewhat lumpy. It is usually pretty easy to tell a jam’s main ingredients just by looking at it. The same is not true for jellies. In most cases, jellies are made only from juices, which means that they contain no fruit pieces or seeds. They tend to have a smoother, more uniform consistency as a result, though they often also have a lot more additives. Jellies also tend to be higher in sugar than jams, though a lot of this depends on the specific recipe at issue.

Differences in Consistency and Texture

The first difference most people notice has to do with overall appearance. Jams tend to look somewhat chunky even in the jar, and it is often possible to see pieces of fruit or tiny seeds in the spread. Most of the time, this is desirable; the main idea behind jams is to preserve the fresh flavor of a fruit, berry, or vegetable, and the best way to do this is often to include whole slices or segments.

Jellies almost never contain chunks and tend to have a very even, uniform consistency. They taste like fruit, but rarely ever contain it. Jelly will usually spread very evenly, and often has a translucent appearance. Some people describe it as a sort of sweetened, solidified juice.

Ingredients

The difference between jam and jelly appearance usually traces pretty directly to differences in ingredients. Jam makers usually begin by mixing fruits, berries, or other produce with sugar, and then they heat everything up until the mixture forms a thick syrup. Jellies, on the other hand, almost always begin with juice. Cooks simmer fruit or other extracts with sugar and a number of jelling agents until the mixture “sets up” or solidifies.

Juices and whole fruits are usually related, but lead to very different outcomes where preserves are concerned. A jam made from strawberries, for example, may taste similar to a jelly made from strawberry juice, but the jam will usually contain actual pieces of the berry whereas the jelly will not. The jam will also usually have a bit more tartness thanks to the fruit’s presence.

Another difference between jam and jelly has to do with how, exactly, cooks get things to set up. Most fruits contain a lot of natural pectin, which is a cell tissue that acts as a thickening agent. Pectin is what gives jams and jellies their gelled consistency, but how it gets into the mix is where things diverge. Fruits typically release pectin when heated, which means than jams often don’t need much, if any, added. Juices, on the other hand, rarely contain any natural thickeners. Making jelly almost always requires the addition of commercially processed pectin.

Sugar content also usually varies between the two. Jams need some sugar to help the pectin release, but not nearly as much as most jellies. In part this is because whole fruits contain a lot of natural sugars that juices simply don’t have.

Common Uses

Jams and jellies are interchangeable in many recipes, and both are very popular as a spread for sandwiches and bread. Still, there are times when one is a better choice than the other. Bakers often choose fruit jams rather than jellies to use between layers of cake or as an ingredient in cookies, for instance. Its chunky texture often adds a lot of interest, and jelly used in these ways might simply absorb into the other ingredients. Jelly is often preferred as a filling for things like pastries, though, and things like jelly-filled croissants and donuts are popular in many places. Its uniform texture also makes jelly a key ingredient in many meat glazes, salad dressings, and other sauces. Jelly made from the juice of mint leaves is commonly paired with lamb, for example, and fruit jellies can be used to add subtle flavor to a variety of different dishes.

Nutritional Comparison

Calculating the specific nutritional information for jams and jellies is nearly impossible without knowing what each contains; a lot changes based on the type of fruit at issue, as well as how much sugar has been added in. In general, though, jams tend to have more helpful vitamins and minerals than jellies for no other reason than that they actually contain actual pieces of produce. Whole foods are almost always more nutritious than juices.

Consumers must usually also watch out for additives and preservatives. Many of the jams and jellies made for the commercial marketplace contain a lot of artificial ingredients and preservatives. Some improve the natural jelling process, while others help lengthen shelf life or brighten color. These sorts of additions tend to alter overall healthfulness, usually for the worse.

Other Types of Preserves

Jams and jellies tend to be quite different when it comes to how where they fit on the spectrum of other fruit preserves, too. Marmalades are jam-like reductions of primarily citrus fruits, for instance, and chutneys are often described as jams that are filled with a balance of sweet and savory ingredients, usually including a number of spices. Fruit butters usually fall somewhere in the middle; these preserves usually include mashed fruit that has been blended to an even consistency that is more jelly-like. The key ingredients are often quite similar across the board, but how those ingredients are processed and handled is usually where the major differences lie.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Nov 14, 2012

I grew some strawberries a few years ago, and they made the best strawberry jelly! They had more flavor than the kind you buy at the store.

I do remember adding pectin to the mix. I had never worked with pectin before, and it was fascinating to observe the jelly form slowly out of a liquid mess!

I could have made jam out of them, but I planned on using the jelly in a recipe for strawberry peanut butter bars. The bars were like brownies, and the jelly was supposed to go on top of them and be a base for a final topping of chopped fresh strawberries. It would have been weird to have both jam and whole fresh fruit on top of the bars.

By seag47 — On Nov 13, 2012

@giddion – I think you are right about people loving either one or the other. I am a jelly person, and to me, blackberry jelly is the most wonderful thing you could put on toast or an English muffin.

It's a gooey fruit coating that gives otherwise bland toast flavor. I hate plain toast, but if I have some blackberry jelly on hand, I tend to eat too much toast!

By giddion — On Nov 12, 2012

The difference between jelly and jam is so well defined that everyone I know is either a jelly or a jam person, but not both. For instance, my husband and my mother cannot tolerate eating fruit seeds, so they are jelly people. My dad and I love the richness and the fullness of jam, though.

To me, jelly is too much like flavored gelatin. I don't like gelatin desserts because of the texture, so I don't like the gelatinous quality of jelly.

I realize that jam also contains pectin, but the difference is that it is so full of other stuff that you don't notice the gelatin. To me, jam is just spreadable fruit.

By shell4life — On Nov 12, 2012

I absolutely love blackberry jam. A big spoonful of this is so full of fruit chunks and seeds that I feel like I'm eating some pre-chewed blackberries!

I put blackberry jam in between linzer cookies when I make them. These are the kind of cookies that aren't very sweet and have a hole in the middle so that the jam shows through.

The jam adds sweetness to the plain tasting cookies. I feel like even though it has sugar in it, the jam makes the cookies a healthy treat because of the whole fruit that it contains.

By anon155459 — On Feb 23, 2011

I think there must be some mistake. Jelly is chunky, while jam is the one with the even texture. Otherwise, it helped a lot with my strange curiosity.

By anon90764 — On Jun 17, 2010

There is just something about the natural wholeness of jam that makes it awesome. where jelly is good, jam is the next level.

By anon86023 — On May 23, 2010

I enjoy using pureed fruit in my jelly. I guess that would still be jelly. i do add pectin. yummy jelly.

By anon83312 — On May 10, 2010

peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are better with jam.

By anon81209 — On Apr 30, 2010

I prefer jam over jelly. It spreads a lot easier, too! Yummy.

By anon79264 — On Apr 22, 2010

I like jelly on my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

By anon58836 — On Jan 04, 2010

I'm glad I prefer jam over jelly. I love the natural taste, and the tartness just makes everything better. I'm not one to like things too sweet, such as candy.

By pocurana — On Oct 12, 2009

While I'd like to be more healthy, I have to admit that I prefer jelly over jam. I like the smooth texture. Especially for certain uses like peanut butter jelly sandwiches -- not healthy at all -- I prefer jelly over jam.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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